History is the future, at least it is for us – along with English, Maths, Science, Art and the other major subjects. For we are presently busy preparing to embark on a new motorhome adventure taking in Britain, Spain, Portugal and Morocco in which we’ll be visiting amazing people, places and things that fit the title of our new project: Education By Astonishment!
The idea is that we show our little boys Daniel and Darley (aged five and three) people, places and things that have the wow factor and that bring school subjects and books to life, to make learning even more fun and to be outdoors a lot, where most of the world to explore is – children are born curious, and new environments bring out that natural curiosity. Travel is education in itself.
We’ll be staying again on the excellent Camping & Caravanning Club campsites that are about Britain, Spain and Portugal and taking the Club’s recommendations as to where to park up in Morocco.
This year the Club is running a Get Kids Camping campaign alongside encouraging us all to share the outdoors and get active. We all have a permanent playroom – it’s called the “outdoors”. We should all get out and play more!
So with all this in mind, after spending far too long cooped up between four walls that we were starting to climb, we headed to Exeter where our motorhome needed a couple of tweaks at the Fiat garage (following on from its pre-big-trip inspection by the excellent team at Marquis Plymouth) after our October to January 8,000 miles adventure visiting friends and family on our brilliant Face2Facebook Project (which we will still continue as we pass close to friends and family on our new journey).
First we explored Exeter’s lovely Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in England, originally laid out in 1612 as a pleasurable walk for Exeter’s people. The park was quarried in Roman times for stone for the city walls and they include a stretch of Roman wall and the only length of Saxon town wall to be seen in England.
Then we wandered around the city. We looked at some of the many historical buildings left standing despite Hitler’s attempts to obliterate them as part of the Nazi Baedeker Blitz raids on English cities during World War II, the targets of the raids chosen from Baedeker’s guidebook on Britain for their cultural and historical brilliance, rather than military significance.
After this we went in Exeter’s fantastic museum and the boys were amazed at the stuffed elephant and giraffe and moose.
Then something rather fortuitous happened, and we think these things always will happen (if only we’re all open to them all the time): we ducked from the winter weather into Exeter Guildhall and a man was there, actually just leaving, but he made a turnaround and immediately started enthusiastically pointing out things in there that would excite our boys.
“Look up there,” he said, pointing at several carved corbels at ceiling level, “see they are all dogs with sticks.” He paused, our boys gazed upwards at the dogs. “Except,” continued this man, “that one in the corner there just peeping from behind that great painting. What’s that one?”
The boys ran towards the corner to look closer. “It’s a little monkey!” cried Daniel excitedly.
“A sneaky old monkey,” added Darley in his inimitable style.
“Why’s he there?” Daniel asked.
The man made sure he had the boys’ attention by pausing, you could hear the silence, then he lowered his voice. “Nobody anywhere in the whole world knows. Neither does anyone know why the dogs are carved here.”
While the boys continued gazing and then moving on with Debs to the bust of Queen Victoria’s stern old face, I chatted with this man, who introduced himself as Todd Gray and explained when I asked him after a few more minutes of chatting how come he knew so much about the history of Exeter that he taught History at the esteemed University of Exeter. (I later investiGoogled and discovered that in fact he is Dr Todd Gray, Honorary Research Fellow at the uni who was awarded an MBE in last year’s New Year’s Honours List for services to Devon’s heritage. We had in fact met the very living person with the greatest knowledge of Devon history!)
He told me that the Grade 1 listed building had seen people standing in it as we were there then since the 12th Century, and that it had been built as a guildhall and was the oldest municipal building in England still in use.
He continued that the building was refaced in the 1590s (at a cost of £789!) in an ornate Italian style. The city stocks used to stand outside (Daniel was very interested to hear that “baddies” were locked in these contraptions and that you could walk past and toss a squashed tomato or rotten egg at them if you wished…).
As well, there’s a 14th Century cellar that was once a prison known as the “pytt of the Guyldhall”. In the 16th century another prison, for women, was built on the ground floor at the building’s rear and remained in use until 1887. So much history is right in front of us.
Todd had to head off then, but we all hope we’ll meet him again. Two minutes later we had to head off as I received a call from the garage saying our motorhome’s tweaks had been completed, that it was ready once again for the open road, one that we know is going to be packed as we travel with ever further astonishment!
We hope you’ll get on board again and join us for the ride.